Monday, May 10, 2010

Child suicides

For years now, schoolyard and on-line bullying has been discussed in the media, particularly when it drives victims to suicide. But it is not the only reason that children kill themselves - and at increasingly young ages.

In January 1999, a girl named Marie was being bullied at her school in Manchester, U.K. Upset at being made to go to bed early for the start of a new term, she hanged herself with her jumprope. She had lost her father 2 years earlier and psychiatrists speculate that not only was she too young to fully articulate her distress about the bullying, she was too young to fully comprehend the finality of death and may have wanted to join him. She had just celebrated her 8th birthday the week before.

In April 2009, a boy named Gabriel ended his short and troubled life by hanging himself in the shower of his Florida foster home. He had told therapists that he had been sexually abused by a peer, had no friends, and had been taught to lie by his mother before he was removed from her custody. He was "a bad person," he said, and had in turn molested other kids, although some of the blame for his behavior is placed on the psychotropic drugs he was prescribed. He had been sent to his room after a tantrum by his babysitter - the 19-year-old son of his foster parents - who found his body in the bathroom. He was 7.

In December 2009, a girl named Samantha was chastized and sent to her room by her mother. She had not been bullied, abused, or traumatized. While her mother and 3 siblings were in another part of the house, she climbed into an old empty crib, attached a belt to the railing, and hanged herself. When the medical examiner ruled her death a suicide, she received the dubious distinction of being the youngest suicide in the state of Oregon. She was 6 years old.

There is some question whether kids of such a young age can form the intent to kill themselves, and many likely suicidal deaths are deemed accidental or undetermined. An 11-year-old child named Abdullah claims to have known exactly what he was doing when he strapped on a suicide vest in Afghanistan. Interviewed after his arrest as the youngest terrorist - before he could carry out his mission - the boy said he knew he'd be in pieces, but made a distinction between suicide and sacrifice. Abdullah's case is about a different kind of abuse - that of indoctrination. More typical are cases in which threats to commit suicide are not taken seriously. Both Gabriel and Samantha said they were going to kill themselves when they were sent to their rooms. With kids doing everything at younger and younger ages, we must remember to add suicide to the list.

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